Tabai Matson ‘tips his hat’ to gritty Exeter Chiefs

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  • Marcus Smith
    English rugby union footballer (b. 1999)

Harlequins head coach Tabai Matson had sympathy for Exeter after the 14-man Chiefs fell to a 14-12 defeat in a gripping Premiership fixture at The Stoop.

In a repeat of last season’s final, Exeter had things tough as they played the second period a man down after Alec Hepburn was sent off for a dangerous clearout.

Harlequins then wasted chances in the rain with the score 7-7 and it was Exeter who struck next through replacement hooker Jack Innard in the 65th minute.

Winning conversion from Smith

The stage was set for a defiant win, but Andre Esterhuizen scored a 79th-minute try set up by Marcus Smith, who then landed the winning kick from the sideline.

“Exeter were gritty, you’ve got to give them credit. Why do we do this for a living?! It is a bloody terrible job but it keeps you living!” Matson said after the victory.

“One thing I love about this team is they create enough opportunities to get the scoreboard going.

“We will review the terrible execution because there were probably four genuine chances to score against 14 men that we completely butchered.

“But you have got to tip your hat to Exeter – what a gritty group of men. They probably deserved a little bit more than that.”

Smith executed a pinpoint kick for Esterhuizen to grab and score, dotting down in a pool of water, but there was better to come from England’s fly-half as he nailed the trickiest of conversions to seize a dramatic late victory.

“That shows a top-class player, to kick from the sideline with the game on the line. You don’t coach that, it’s locked in,” Matson said.

“He’s got really high standards. His goals are to try and become a world-class player, but a player with his expectations will go through his performance and go ‘nah’.”

Exeter head back to Devon with a gutsy losing bonus point in the bank and director of rugby Rob Baxter could only admire the fight shown by his players.

“You look at it and you’re really pleased with huge parts of it and then you come up a little bit short, which is always a little frustrating,” Baxter said.

“Everyone knows that yellow and red cards have a huge effect on games and we weathered that pretty well.

“We’re disappointed not to get more, but at the same time we’ve done a lot of good things. We did everything we could have to give ourselves a chance.”

Baxter revealed that England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie missed the game because of illness.

Gloucester elated after first win at Saracens since 2008

Meanwhile, Gloucester attack coach Alex King was happy after his troops won at Saracens for the first time since November 2008, prevailing 25-24 on Saturday.

Since their last triumph at Saracens’ old ground Vicarage Road, the Cherry and Whites had lost 12 and drawn the other in 13 visits to their Premiership rivals with the last three games seeing the West Country side concede 144 points – including a 62-12 defeat.

However tries from Fraser Balmain, Jack Singleton and Lewis Ludlow saw them turn the tide with Adam Hastings adding two penalties and two conversions in the away victory.

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